Thursday, March 01, 2012
Back in mid-2007 I wrote up a number of artists about whom little was known, in part because much of their work was for nursery comics which have been very poorly researched in the past. Some of them deserve to be better known because their talent was clearly outstanding.
One such is Harold McCready. Back in 2007 I was not able to offer much in the way of information and, as is my wont, I try to revisit these artists every now and again to see if I can turn up anything. I'm now reasonably certain that I've tracked down at least a little on McCready.
He was born in Salford, Manchester, the son of Samuel and Eliza McCready, on 22 February 1897. His father was born in Ireland but came to Lancashire with his family where he worked as an elementary school teacher in Broughton, marrying Eliza McCance in Salford in 1894. Harold was raised in Broughton and began working as a colliery labourer in Chesterfield at the age of 14. He served in the Notts & Derby Regiment and became a 2nd Lieutenant in the Warwick Regiment during the Great War.
McCready married Lily Moss in Leeds, Yorkshire, in 1918 and had two children: Irene Joan McCready, born in Leeds in 1919, and Desmond Roy McCready, born in London in 1924. Released from war service in around 1919, he subsequently became an animator, working on the 'Bonzo' series of cartoons for New Era Films in 1924-26, and illustrated My Book of Fairy Tales and Wonder Stories (F. Warne & Co., 1925). McCready also produced posters for Imperial Airways and London Transport.
He lived at 133 Goldhawk Road, Hammersmith, moving after his marriage to 126 Goldhawk Road, where the two lived until 1928. The marriage did not last; Lily McCready had a fiery temper and Harold appears to be living on his own in later years at various addresses. During the 1930s he lived at 7 Westwell Road, Wandsworth SW11 [fl.1929-34], 153 Merlin Road, Welling, Bexley Heath [fl.1934-36] and 151 The Drive, Blendon Hall, Bexley Heath [fl.1937-39].
It was whilst at the latter address that McCready was fined £2 with costs of £6 3s. for dangerous driving on the Wolseley Road, Rugeley, on 30 July. The case, which came before the court in September, was that McCready had attempted to overtake a car driven by William Parkes and, having overtaken, turned in so sharply that his near-side bumper became locked with the front off-side bumper of Parkes' car. The latter car was dragged 24 feet and overturned after striking the curb, injuring its occupants. McCready claimed that Parkes had accelerated and had run into the back his car; the collision was so slight that he had not noticed anything amiss until his son, sitting in the back, said that the other car had overturned.
McCready was active as a comic strip artist in the 1930s, drawing 'In the Days of Robin Hood' for The Boys' and Girls' Daily Mail (1934) and 'Invaded by Vikings' for Jolly Jack's Weekly, a comic supplement given away with The Sunday Dispatch (1934). He also produced the cover and illustrations for The Joy Cupboard – The British Legion Annual for 1934 (Alexander Ouseley Ltd., 1933).
Unfortunately, he then disappears from sight. In 1956 he began painting the cover strip, 'Jolly Days with Dicky and Dolly', for Playhour and it is possible that he worked on other A.P. nursery papers like Tiny Tots.
These were quite delightful strips, obviously aimed at the very young — simple storylines that could be related in three or four frames, colourfully drawn and full of cheery animal characters. Basically, the tried and tested formula that dated back to Mrs Hippo's Kindergarten fifty years earlier. McCready was probably at his best when he was showing winter landscapes, with snow piled thick on fences and branches, and colourful scenes of summer holidays, fireworks nights and Christmas day frolics. You'll find lots of examples of McCready's Dicky and Dolly at the Look and Learn Picture Gallery.
McCready's work on the strip was intermittent on occasions as he also worked on 'Jack and Jill of Buttercup Farm', the cover strip for Jack and Jill in 1957; when Dicky and Dolly were displaced from the front cover in 1959 by 'Tiger Tim and the Bruin Boys', who joined Playhour when it merged with Tiny Tots, McCready was one of the main artists during its nine month run.
Dicky and Dolly returned for another three months as cover stars (1959-60) before they were replaced by TV star 'Sooty', drawn by Gordon Hutchings. McCready launched a new strip, 'Leo the Friendly Lion', based on a character who had appeared in Playhour Annual a couple of years earlier. He remained on the strip only a couple of months before sharing duties drawing 'Sooty' on the cover with Gordon Hutchings, taking over for a run between September and November 1960, plus one episode published in February 1961.
After that, McCready disappears from the pages of Playhour and I've yet to find any other work by him. McCready was living at 21 Jedburgh Street, Battersea S.W.11 in 1957-61 and Brian Woodford, a sub on Playhour in the 1950s, recalls visiting him at Battersea, describing his as "a short, very unassuming man, nothing at all what you would expect of an artist."
Colin Wyatt recalls: "I also went to his house on a couple of occasions to pick up artwork. I remember that on each occasion he just opened his front door, passed over the package, and closed it again."
This latter point is echoed by Brian Woodford: "The first time I went there I remember I couldn't find the street or his house and thought how nice it would be to get there and be offered a glass of something refreshing. Instead, no conversation, simply 'Here it is. Goodbye.' Very unlike Ron Embleton. I remember going to his home and being invited into his studio where we sat and talked about art for more than thirty minutes."
(I'm reminded of a story I heard about Ted Kearon, the artist of Robot Archie, who lived down on the south coast. Anyone visiting Ted to collect artwork was kept waiting on the doorstep by Mrs. Kearon who was keen never to have her husband distracted from his work. If they needed to talk to him, they weren't invited in; instead, Kearon — wearing a smock to keep his clothes clean — was allowed onto the doorstep to quickly deal with any business.)
McCready was, it would seem, fanatical about bullfighting. "I was told that [he] had taken thousands of feet of film using a 35mm film camera which he often carried around in a large holdall," says Colin.
According to his granddaughter, Heather, Harold McCready left the UK for Australia: "I only met Harold once and that was in about 1969/70 when he contacted my mother out of the blue to pick him up from Southampton, having arrived by boat from Australia. She wasn't best impressed as she hadn't seen or heard from him since he left and it was my father who persuaded her to do so. My memories of him are very much as your contacts described him: a man of very few words! However, as I trained as a dancer his artistic side leant towards me and hence I became his beneficiary a couple of years later to help continue my studies, which was a bolt out of the blue for me."
I believe Harold McCready subsequently moved to 7 Luxborough House, Luxborough Street, W.1 [1966-67], and later moved to Richmond upon Thames, where he died in early 1972, aged 75.
(* Dicky and Dolly © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd.; Tiger Tim and the Bruin Boys © IPC Media; originally posted 13 July 2007; updated 15 July 2007. With thanks to Heather Seymour for adding her memories.)